The robots are coming, thick and fast. A team of researchers from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey California has successfully lofted 50 drones into the air at once, all controlled by a single person — making it the biggest drone swarm ever to enter the sky.
The Zephyr drones — custom craft made from hobbyist components — cost around $US2,000 a piece and communicate with each other using wifi. The team used a series of algorithms to orchestrate the craft while they were in the air, which had previously only been tested in simulations. Kevin Jones, who led the project, explains to New Scientist:
“Most of the swarming operations are things like ‘follow-me’ mode, where one or more UAVs follow a leader around the sky. The swarm behaviour looks quite random as the aircraft move around the sky trying to optimally search an area in the shortest amount of time.”
The long-term goal of the team is to develop complex, automated swarming patterns that provide the usefulness of many craft in the air without the need for multiple operators. Currently, the team can launch one craft into the air every 30 second — safety checks occupy the pauses — but they hope to get it down to 10 seconds.